Max D. Ticktin, a professor of Yiddish and Hebrew literature at George Washington University before retiring in 2014, died July 3 at his home in Washington. He was 94.
The cause was a cerebral hemorrhage, said a son-in-law, Eric Rome.
Before joining the GWU faculty in the late 1970s, Rabbi Ticktin was for six years the associate national director of Hillel, the on-campus student foundation for Jewish life. Earlier, he had been Hillel director at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago.
At GWU, Rabbi Ticktin taught courses in Hebrew language and contemporary Israeli literature. In 2016, the university announced the establishment of a newly endowed professorial chair named for him with a focus on Israel studies.
In an announcement, the university described him as “a teacher who connected easily with young people and a consummate storyteller who captivated audiences. . . . A Ticktin lesson on Hebrew grammar might veer into a brilliant reflection on how Shakespeare’s sonnets compare to the King James Bible.”
Max David Ticktin was born in Philadelphia on June 30, 1922. His parents — Jewish immigrants from Poland — had arrived in the United States a year earlier. One of his foremost influences was his maternal grandfather, a rabbi.
In 1947, he was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He also had studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In the 1970s, Rabbi Ticktin was a leader in a small group of American Jews called Breira, or “choice,” that supported greater understanding between Israel and the Palestinians and the removal of new Jewish settlements being built in the West Bank.
“Max was deeply committed to an Israel and a Zionism that did not dominate another people,” Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a former leader of Breira, told the Baltimore Jewish Times last year.
But the group’s views were met with hostility by many other Jews and Jewish organizations at a time of Palestine Liberation Organization-sponsored skyjackings and other terrorist activities, and shortly after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
A meeting between what were called “moderate” PLO leaders and members of Breira provoked a fierce and public backlash from powerful Jewish groups from which Breira never recovered. It soon went defunct.
“We botched it up,” Rabbi Ticktin said to the Baltimore paper, “because we had little sense of where the power lay. It lay with the people who made the biggest donations and were behind the big Jewish organizations. And they could do what they did do, which was bring us to our knees. We were young. We were chutzpadik [impudent].
“It was a different time,” he added. “It was the first encounter of an articulate Jewish population with a crisis which we’ll call the ’60s or Vietnam. Breira made a lot of sense for the time.”
In Washington, he was a member of Fabrangen, a Jewish fellowship group.
Survivors include his wife of 70 years, Esther Kelman Ticktin of Washington; two daughters, Deborah McCants of Madison, Wis., and Ruth Ticktin of Washington; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Hannah Ticktin, died in 1991.